On March 20th in Page Auditorium on Duke University’s West Campus, an absolutely magnificent production of Man of La Mancha ended the 40-year-old Broadway at Duke series on a very high note indeed. Lavishly produced by Phoenix Entertainment, in association with CJ Entertainment Korea, and brilliantly directed and choreographed by Sam Viverito, the current tour of this award-winning 1965 Broadway musical starred Steve McCoy as tax collector-turned-author Miguel de Cervantes and his favorite fictional creation, the poor old mad country landowner Alonso Quijana, who thinks that he is the knight-errant Don Quixote.

Man of La Mancha, with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, and a book by Dale Wasserman based on the classic 1605 picaresque novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1616), also starred Michael Barra as Cervantes’ roly-poly servant and Quixote’s proverb-spouting squire Sancho Panza; and Tess Rohan as the feisty kitchen scullion Aldonza, whom Quixote insists on addressing as the high-born lady Dulcinea.

Steve McCoy has the pipes and the passion to create a Cervantes and a Quixote (in the play-within-the-play) that are truly unforgettable, as well as the knack for taking Man of La Mancha’s familiar lyrics and making them his own. Michael Barra provides a perfect plus-sized foil as Sancho in a witty larger-than-life performance, and Broadway veteran Tess Rohan brings an exquisite operatic voice and a steely determination to plumb the emotional depths of Aldonza/Dulcinea. All three stars know how to squeeze every ounce of humor and poignancy out of the lively lyrics of Man of La Mancha.

Andy Planck (subbing for Dean Bellais) was terrific as the cynical hard-bitten inmate Governor, who presides over the kangaroo court that puts Cervantes on trial, and the jovial Innkeeper of Cervantes’ unorthodox defense: a play that dramatizes the colorful contents of the precious manuscript that the Governor will throw into the fire if Cervantes’ defense fails. Shawn Pennington was wonderfully wicked as Cervantes’ inmate nemesis—the malicious Duke—as well as Quijana/Quixote’s conniving future son-in-law Dr. Carrasco. Ruan Woolfolk gave a gritty performance as Pedro, the lusty muleteer whom Aldonza teases one time too many; and Clinton Curtis (subbing for Andy Planck) was quite formidable as the Captain of the Inquisition.

For this gala traveling version of Man of La Mancha, scenic designer Michael Hotopp has created a soaring multilevel faux-stone set that represents the lower depths of the dismal dungeon where the infamous Spanish Inquisition incarcerated political prisoners—the quaking objects of its unwelcome attentions—among thieves, murderers, and prostitutes. Lighting designer Mike Baldassari skillfully employed beams of light, shining down from above, to illuminate the fetid darkness of this hellhole; and costume designer Paul F. Favini outfitted the cast in a striking array of 17th century military garb and torn and tattered civilian clothing, in addition to the rusty antique helmet and armor donned by Don Quixote and the exotic apparel of the Moors who pluck Quixote and Sancho Panza like a pair of unusually dimwitted chickens.

Director/choreographer Sam Viverito makes brilliant use of the superlative set, lighting, and costumes; and musical director Michael Borth and the Man of La Mancha band provide soaring instrumental accompaniment that lifts “The Impossible Dream,” the title tune (a.k.a. “I, Don Quixote”), “Dulcinea,” etc., to new heights. Seldom does a touring version of a classic Broadway musical have the voices, acting ability, and directorial genius demonstrated March 20th in Page Auditorium. Broadway at Duke’s final audience responded with a spirited—and well-deserved—standing ovation that went on and on and on. Bravo!

Broadway at Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/broadway/. Man of La Mancha: http://www.phoenixontour.com/ [inactive 7/09]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5817. Internet Movie Database (1972 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068909/.